The National Food Laboratory has developed a new test method for the detection of Sudan Red food dye, a potential carcinogen that has been the focus of numerous product recalls.
The aim of the test, says the research firm, is to ensure that current product inventories or products that are being purchased are free from these illegal colorants.
"A number of recalls of food products suspected of containing these illegal dyes are talking place across the globe," said NFL president Kevin Buck.
"With today's global sourcing of food ingredients, food companies are not taking any risks with their chili spice suppliers or products containing ingredients potentially contaminated with Sudan dyes."
Undeniably, the pressure is on food makers to test. All imports into the UK for example need a certificate to show they are free of contamination, and failure by companies to identify the dye could lead to expensive and highly embarrassing recalls.
The NFL claims that the new method can detect all four types of Sudan dyes at 0.01 ppm in a variety of sample matrices, protecting firms from accidental contamination.
Sudan Red is an industrial dye normally used to color shoe polish, plastics, oil and other synthetic products. But Sudan Red has also been added to food products in order to increase and preserve red color over time.
The colorant has been found to be a potential carcinogen and as a result has been prohibited for use in food products in the US and most other countries.
European and other international regulatory agencies have recently tested chili powders and a variety of products containing chili pepper, tumeric, paprika, red pepper and oleoresins for Sudan Red food dyes.
The discovery of Sudan Red in a number of food products has certainly shaken up the color ingredients market, and made the analysis and detection of products that may contain the color an absolute necessity.
But paradoxically, exports of chili and chili products from India appear not to have been affected by the discovery of Sudan Red in some processed foods, despite a massive product recall in the UK caused by the discovery of the banned color in a batch of spices of Indian origin.
In fact, total Indian exports of chilli reaching 138,000 tonnes in 2004-05, up from 86,575 tonnes for the previous year.
The California-based National Food Laboratory (The NFL) developed the new method in cooperation with its parent company, the Food Products Association.